James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 31 January 1796

To Thomas Jefferson

Philada. Jany. 31. 1796

Dear Sir

I inclose a letter from Jno. Bringhurst1 explaining a claim on you for about £17. Pa. Currency, and requesting me to advance it. Taking him to be an honest man in distress, I shall probably venture a compliance with his solicitation, if it should be found that he cannot wait for your orders. In the mean time you can inform me whether the acct. be accurately stated: but if so, you need not forward the money, as it will be equally convenient to me to receive it in Virginia.

The Original of the British Ratification of the Treaty is still to arrive, & we are not likely to be furnished with a copy. Some members are anxious to apply to the President for the communication, & some would take up the subject on its mere notoriety. It is pretty evident however, that either attempt would be defeated by the advantage which the rub agst. the P. in one case, & the informality in the other, would give to the friends of the Treaty, in the discussion, & the pretext they would afford to the insincere or cautious opponents. The Treaty with Spain also is not yet ⟨arri⟩ved, tho’ there is reason for hourly expecting it. The same as to the ⟨treaty⟩ with Algiers.2 You will see in the gazette inclosed a sketch of the debate on the proposition to employ Robinson3 of Petersburg as Stenographer to the House of Reps. The more the subject is opened, the more the objections are found to be insuperable. There is little doubt that the project will be rejected.

A committee of ways & means4 are employed in investigating our revenues & our wants. It is found that there are between six & seven millions of anticipations due to the Banks, that our ordinary income is barely at par with our ordinary expenditures, & that new taxes must be ready to meet near 1½ millions which will accrue in 1801. The proposition of the Treasury is to fund the anticipations & the foreign debt due in instalments, with an absolute irredeemability for such a period say 20 or 30 years, as will sell the new Stock at par. This is treading as fast on the heels of G. B. as circumstances will permit. It is probable the House will not consent to such an abandonment of the sound principles it has been latterly favoring; but loans at least in some form or other will be indispensable, in order to face the demands on the public until new taxes can be brought into action. With respect to ⟨this, t⟩he Come. are now in deliberation & embarrassments. The excise system is unproductive, & new excises that will be po⟨pul⟩ar even in the Eastern States do not occur. On the other hand direct taxes, have been so blackened in order to recom⟨mend⟩ the fiscal policy of indirect ones, & to inspire hatred, & jealousies in the Eastern ⟨against the southern states, and particularly⟩ Virginia, that it is doubtful whether the measure, now that it is become necessa⟨ry, will be born⟩e. Gallatin ⟨is⟩ a real Treasure in this department of Legislation. He is sound in his principles, accurate in his calculations & indefatigable in his researches. Who could have supposed that Hamilton could have gone off in the triumph he assumed, with such a condition of the finances behind him?

You will see that Govr. Adams has lanced a pretty bold attack agst. the Treaty. The Legislature have not yet answered his speech. Their unhandsome treatment of the Virga. Amendments portends a countertone.5 Nothing could more than this treatment demonstrate the success with which party calumny has sown animosity & malignity in the State of Massts. agst. a State which feels no return of illwill, & towards which there were formerly in that quarter the strongest habits of cordiality & cooperation. Yrs. always & affey.

Js. M. Jr

The navigation project of Genl. Smith waits for a favorable moment of discussion. The Treaty party will make war on it, as secretly levelled at that transaction, & thus endeavor to escape the consequences of sacrificing the obvious interests of the Eastern States.

RC (DLC). Addressed and franked by JM to Jefferson at Charlottesville, “via Richmond.” Docketed by Jefferson, “recd. Feb. 20.” Damaged by removal of seal; several lines obscured by tape. Words and parts of words in angle brackets supplied from Madison, Writings (Cong. ed.), 2:75–76.

1Letter not found.

2On 15 Feb. Washington submitted to the Senate the treaty which Joseph Donaldson, Jr., had concluded with Algiers on 5 Sept. 1795 (Miller, Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (8 vols.; Washington, 1930–48). description ends , 2:275).

3JM was referring to David Robertson, who had recorded the debates in the 1788 Virginia ratifying convention (PJM description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (1 vol. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984—). description ends , 11:75–76). For the debate mentioned by JM, see Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 4th Cong., 1st sess., 271, 274–82.

4Treasury Secretary Oliver Wolcott had submitted his estimates for 1796 to the House on 14 Dec. 1795. In the following week, as the House debated the state of the Union, Albert Gallatin (Pennsylvania) seems to have taken the initiative that led to the establishment on 21 Dec. of a standing Ways and Means Committee, to which JM was appointed. The committee met with Wolcott on 26 Dec. and probably discussed with him both the estimates for the next year and future provisions for financing the debt. On 29 Dec. a Committee of the Whole, following a ways and means report, approved resolutions and ordered bills for civil list appropriations for 1796, while Wolcott, on 31 Dec. and on 4 and 19 Jan., submitted reports on provision for the debt. With some minor exceptions, the House largely followed Treasury Department recommendations for the civil list and had passed the necessary legislation by 25 Jan.; more contentious matters were left for later discussion.

JM, however, omitted to mention to Jefferson that he had been appointed chairman of a ways and means subcommittee on direct taxation. Republican members of the Ways and Means Committee did not, at this time, attempt to use it as a vehicle to oppose administration policies, though there is evidence of disagreement between its Federalist chairman, William Loughton Smith (South Carolina), and Gallatin, who became the Republicans’ leading financial spokesman. JM may have seen two documents drawn up by Gallatin in December 1795 where he and Smith differed substantially over the size of the debt and the amount of additional revenue required for the 1796 estimates (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Finance, 1:359–81; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (9 vols.; Washington, 1826). description ends , 2:385, 391, 411, 415–21, 423–25; Patrick J. Furlong, “The Origins of the House Committee of Ways and Means,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly. description ends , 3d ser., 25 [1968]: 594–600; William Smith’s statement and Smith’s statement with Gallatin’s reply, Dec. 1795, in Carl E. Prince and Helene H. Fineman, eds., The Papers of Albert Gallatin [microfilm ed.; 46 reels; Philadelphia, 1969], reel 3).

5On 19 Jan. Gov. Samuel Adams submitted to the Massachusetts General Court the constitutional amendments proposed by the Virginia General Assembly. He denounced the Jay treaty as “pregnant with evil” but also cautioned against “unnecessary alterations of our Constitution.” Both houses declined to consider either the amendments or the treaty (Harry Alonzo Cushing, ed., The Writings of Samuel Adams [4 vols.; New York, 1904–8], 4:390–91; Farnham, “The Virginia Amendments of 1795,” VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. description ends , 75 [1967]: 86).

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